Phipps Conservatory's Center for Sustainable Landscapes one of the 'greenest' in the world
Structure wins environmental challenge with flying colors
March 11, 2015 12:00 AM
The Center for Sustainable Landscape building at Phipps Conservatory.
The open atrium in the Center for Sustainable Landscapes at Phipps Conservatory in Oakland floods the building with natural light.
Orchids and other house plants line filing cabinets in the offices in the Center for Sustainable Landscape at Phipps Conservatory in Oakland.
By Marylynne Pitz / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Center for Sustainable Landscapes at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Oakland is the seventh building in the world to meet the Living Building Challenge and achieve full certification, the most rigorous standard for green buildings.
Richard Piacentini, executive director of Phipps, said this new certification also means that the Oakland building is the first structure in the world to meet all of the requirements for four sought-after certifications given to green buildings.
“This puts Phipps on the map nationally and internationally,” said Mr. Piacentini, who learned of the certification last Friday in an email from the International Living Future Institute, which has offices in Seattle and Portland, Ore. [See an October 2011 Post-Gazette article about the building.]
The good news, Mr. Piacentini said, builds on earlier successes, including Phipps’ construction of the first LEED-certified welcome center in a public garden and the Tropical Forest Conservatory.
Located on a 2.65-acre former brownfield in Oakland, the 24,350-square-foot building Center for Sustainable Landscapes was created by The Design Alliance, a local architectural firm, and opened in 2012. The center, which houses 40 employees, generates its own energy with 125 solar panels, a vertical axis wind turbine and 14 geothermal wells. Cisterns, a lagoon, rain gardens and constructed wetlands are used to treat all storm and sanitary water.
“Not a single drop of water went into the Alcosan system,” said Mr. Piacentini.
Eric Corey Freed, vice president in charge of outreach for the International Living Future Institute, said Phipps was among five buildings that recently met the Living Building Challenge. More than 250 buildings are trying to meet the institute’s high standards. The institute contracts with independent auditors to track a building’s progress before awarding the certification.
Most buildings, Mr. Freed said, “consume massive amounts of energy, water and resources and have walls and floors filled with known cancer-causing chemicals. By any standard, that would be considered bad. Then there are green buildings that use less energy, less water and less cancer-causing chemicals.”
The living building challenge, Mr. Freed said, aims much higher.
A good building, Mr. Freed said, “is one that generates more energy than it consumes. A good building is one that recycles its water and uses it more than once. A good building sources material locally. A good building avoids all known cancer-causing chemicals.”
Phipps is especially distinctive, Mr. Freed said, because it has met the standards for LEED platinum certification. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.
The center is the first and only building to receive a four-star Sustainable Sites Initiative certification for a landscape project. The center is also the first and only WELL Building platinum project.
“Of the four, the living building challenge is the most stringent so it’s probably the most impressive,” Mr. Freed said. “It’s really a credit to the vision of the organization and their executive director, Richard Piacentini.”
The institute sends auditors out on multiple trips to audit a building’s systems.
“We base it on real data. Once the building is open, we need a year’s worth of data” to determine if the building actually produced more energy than it consumed,” Mr. Freed said. Air quality is checked for carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide. Water quality is checked.
The first structure to meet the living building challenge was The Omega Center for Sustainable Living in Rhinebeck, N.Y. The others are Smith College Bechtel Environmental Classroom in Whately, Mass.; Bertschi School Living Building Science Wing in Seattle; Hawaii Preparatory Academy Energy Lab in Kamuela, Hawaii; Tyson Living Learning Center in Eureka, Mo.; and McGilvra Place Park in Seattle.
The International Living Future Institute will host a conference in Pittsburgh at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center from Sept. 16 through Sept. 18.
Marylynne Pitz: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1648.
To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to
email@example.com and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner.